With a longtime personal mission to “bring more humanity to the workplace and to business,” Julia Winston had focused her work on startups and studiously avoided the finance industry. Then a job listing by Alpine Investors piqued her interest. “I wondered, why would a private equity firm hire a community manager? I didn’t know much about private equity. I just knew it was a scary place.”
By putting in her application, Winston walked right into what she calls “the belly of the beast,” and she hasn’t looked back. As a community manager, Winston’s job was to nurture communities in ways that support and empower individuals to live their passion and purpose every day. It’s a key role at Alpine, where building community and sharing ideas within companies and across the portfolio is considered foundational to successful performance.
Winston designs and facilitates Alpine’s annual Growth Summit and other culture programming within the firm and across the portfolio, but her most remarkable initiative has been in developing the PeopleFirst Leadership Program. In 2011, the consulting firm CEO2 helped Alpine to establish a healthy, values-driven organizational culture at the firm. Four years later, CEO2 founders’ Tom Voccola and Frances Fujii retired and sold their intellectual property to Alpine. In 2015, Winston was tasked with scaling and adapting the program so it could be brought to all of Alpine’s portfolio companies. “It was really a microcosm of what Alpine does, which is to grow and scale a founder-owned business while preserving its spirit,” Winston says.
The PeopleFirst Leadership Program is a series of workshops that unleashes individual and team potential and creates alignment around organizational goals. Now led by Erin Stahmer, Head of Playbook Operations, the program has become a core part of Alpine’s operating playbook and Winston has evolved her own role to serve primarily as a coach and facilitator. “For me there is nothing more fulfilling than to see transformation happen,” Winston says. “This work enables me to invite hundreds of people to be genuine and authentic in a place where we are taught to wear masks and operate from ego. I really get to live my mission here.”
Winston and her colleagues have become experts at dealing with teams during the acquisition process, when emotions often run high. “We can really help with setting the tone of the transition. It’s so important to reassure people that we’re all in this together, and to let them know what they can expect. This is the most human time in a company’s life cycle. It’s an opportunity to look beyond the economics and pay attention to how people are feeling and interacting.”
During the acquisition founders are often excited but also nervous and even isolated, as they often must keep the details of a pending deal confidential. “They’re making a change, they don’t know how people are going to respond—and generally people don’t respond well to change right away,” Winston says.
For founders, Winston and her colleagues seek to be a source of support, and to send a simple message: “We want to honor what you built and help it become the best version of itself as it grows.”